Every morning that Antonneous Clayton wakes up he’s thinking about what has to be done that day. There are weights, class, film and practice and, of course, he has to eat.
Clayton arrived at Florida a heralded five-start prospect but at 215 pounds he wasn’t anywhere near where he needed to be to play defensive line in the Southeastern Conference.
“I wasn’t that SEC body that I wanted to have,” he said Monday. “I was highly ranked but when I got here those stars didn’t mean nothing. I still had a huge learning curve.”
Clayton was a star lineman for Dooley County High School where he was First Team All-State as a senior, and came to Florida at 235 pounds. By his own admission, he had put on the 20 pounds hastily, chasing a number more than worrying about how that actual weight came on. After quickly putting that weight on a virus sapped him of 20 pounds during fall camp, bringing him back to square one.
The sickness and weight loss set Clayton back. Learning plays and his responsibilities were another issue. Clayton’s learning curve was so big that defensive line coach Chris Rumph wondered aloud to the media if he had made a mistake offering Clayton a scholarship.
“I said, ‘Man, Rumph, you sure missed out on that one.’ He was bad. I mean he was bad, bad, bad, bad,” Rumph said last October. “But then all of a sudden you just saw him, he wants it so bad. He’s just so eager, and he’s just great to be around. He’s just like right there on your hip. I mean, you’re talking to somebody else and you turn around and he’s right there trying to absorb everything.”
Clayton played in five games last year before breaking a bone in his hand during a freak accident warming up for a game against Florida State. With his season over, Clayton threw himself into the offseason-conditioning program.
For a guy that weighed 215 pounds and needed to put on weight quickly, Clayton had to eat but not just anything, he needed to put the right kind of weight on. That meant even more schooling, this time from Collier Perno, Florida’s Coordinator of Sports Nutrition.
Clayton estimates that he’s taking in approximately 6,000 calories a day just trying to maintain his weight while he goes through the rigors of spring camp. That means food, lots of it and, Sorry, Dr. Atkins, it means a lot of carbohydrates too.
“I leave practice there’s a little shake bar right here, a protein bar that we get and that helps with recovery. You burn off (at practice) but you put back in. Also when I leave here I got to the training table and get things like baked chicken, baked fish, broccoli, mozzarella, lasagna, really help put on that good weight,” Clayton said. “Not just late night snacking, eating every 3-4 hours, snack bar, wheat thins, stuff like that. I need to keep those carbs inside so I can keep the weight on. I lose weight really really fast. Getting with Collier and the magnificent nutrition program just really helped me out to maintain the weight.”
It’s working. Perno’s station is set up just outside of the indoor practice facility. On Monday she had shaker bottles labeled with player’s names on them, guys that she is closely monitoring their weight. Clayton dutifully walked out of his media obligation on Monday and made a stop there to pick up his pre-dinner snack. Keeping the 30 or so pounds he’s put on is a top priority because Florida will be looking for Clayton to take on a bigger role this season. Florida needs to find someone to rush the passer and the Gators believe that Clayton can fit the bill.
“I feel like Clayton is really stepping up to the plate,” defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “I feel like he can actually be potentially a Dante Fowler role in his near future. He just has that dog in him in my opinion.”
Clayton was quick to put the spotlight on other players like CeCe Jefferson, Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga.
“I’m still learning as of right now,” he said. “I’m just a sophomore.”
But his teammates who have watched him for a year and see how he’s attacked his goal of adding weight and learning the playbook think he’s being modest. They think Clayton is ready to not only contribute but to start getting your attention like he’s gotten theirs.
“Of course he’s going to turn heads this year,” defensive end CeCe Jefferson said. “He’s a high energy guy, he’s going to get off the ball. I know he can come in and do some damage.”